Barcelona is a city for city lovers. People populate every street at every hour of the day. Public transport snakes everywhere, seemingly endless options for getting around. Coffee is available at 3 am and beer is available at 9 am. It’s a place where anyone can find something to love.
And if you happen to love museums, then you’re really in business. Read on for my favourites.
By Plane: Low-cost airlines love Barcelona – Ryanair, Norwegian air shuttle, Eurowings, and so on all transport passengers eager to soak up sun and inject sangria into their system.
By train: Convenient train connections from all over Spain and further flung locations.
Museum entrance: Most museums in Barcelona offer a free day once per month or a free period one day per week. A few times per year, the city hosts “Museum Nights”, during which ALL the museums have free entrance. Trying to visit during those days is positively insane. The crowds are impenetrable and the experience is less than great. However, if you can catch the free day that month, the crowds are manageable and your pockets are heavier 🙂
- Picasso Museum
- National Catalunyan Museum
- Gaudi House
- Joan Miro Foundation
- The Patio B&B: An utterly charming and beautifully up-kept spot. Rooms have ensuite bathrooms and the building includes a sitting room, secluded rooftop patio, and hearty breakfast buffet each morning in the dining room.
- Casa Gracia Hotel/Hostel: With everything from dorm rooms for 15 euro per night to a private penthouse apartment, this spot has something for everyone.
- Generator Hostels
- Fit Food: El Arbol, Flax & Kale, Teresa Carlos, Mama’s café, Onna Coffee
- Detox to Retox: La Paisana, Gatamala, Gasterea Pintxos, Turris bakery
- If you want to spend hours with good wifi: Mama’s café, Sabio Infante, Onna Coffee
The best way to start a day is at a bakery. In the Gracia neighbourhood, you can throw a stone and hit 10, so take your pick (although I thought Turris was the best). Grab a small dark coffee and a sticky croissant and head out into the sunshine.
I was staying at Casa Gracia, a recently launched venture of all good things in one place. A beautiful groundfloor bar & restaurant, La Paisana, free yoga Monday – Wednesday mornings for guests, a first floor library, lounge, terrace, and kitchen. The staff are incredible helpful and the setting is simply serene.
A 20 to 30 minute walk down past Plaza Catalunya, you’ll find the MACBA. The MACBA museum of contemporary art is easily identified by the swarms of skateboarders capitalizing on the smooth surfaces in front.
Dodging through and you’ll be treated to rotating exhibitions, always lending a fresh flavour to the building. This time around was Poesia Brossa by Joan Brossa and The Maids. The Maids was a fascinating collaboration between seemingly dissimilar sources. Together a puppet artist, a sewing instructor, a robotics engineer, and several writers created a masterpiece. You can only imagine the creativity born from such diversity.
El Arbol is not far from the museum, offering a diverse menu. Opt for an Energy Green bowl (pureed apple, avocado, broccoli, spinach, dates, and spirulina, topped with hemp seeds and coconut) or go for classic Eggs Benedict or Avocado toast. They also offer a very reasonable Menu del Dia.
The afternoon is spent exploring the Gothic quarter, a delightful area full of good bars, cafes, and local shops. Nearby, the Picasso museum beckons. Picasso was an apprentice during his time in Barcelona and the museum showcases many of his early portraits. These early works show the immense talent Picasso had in the more traditional realm of painting, in contrast to his later equally amazing masterpieces.
7:00 arrived, meaning Vermut time. A old tradition recently revived in Spain and a habit I was happy to pick up in Basque country was the hora de Vermut, Vermouth hour. This bitter yet sweet aperitif is served with ice and an orange slice, and goes down a treat with salty tapas.
In the Gracia neighbourhood, Gatamala is a tiny bar, easy to miss. A short menu showcases ingredients at their very best. Vermouth arrives with a crusty piece of bread, topped with ham, paprika, and heavy dose of olive oil. Manchego cheese with sundried tomatoes is simplicity at its best.
The conundrum faced with tapas is whether to stay put and keep eating or move somewhere new. Somewhat grudgingly I move to Gasterea, where you are guaranteed to stand and wait for a while if you want a seat. Freshly made hot pintxos fly out of the kitchen, the bartender calling out the item and declaring it’s “muy muy Bueno”. He’s a good salesman and the plates are emptied within seconds.
The 4 euro clay pot casseroles the bar is known for are delicious, rich and a bit more substantial. Wine comes in short squat glasses and as I pay my bill, the bartender gives me a cheeky smile and fills it up again. I’ll come back here.
Gasping for air and beat red, I was regretting my choice of a right turn out the hotel on my jog. The Gran de Gracia street goes uphill from Casa Gracia, slowly at first, but increasing towards Park Guell until it feels like a 45 degree incline. The crest of the hill ahead was perfect motivation to last a couple minutes longer. Views from Park Guell are amazing – 360 degrees around the city, rooftops sparkling in the late fall sunshine and sky as blue as can be. The best part of running to the top of a hill is you get to run down 🙂
For true health saints, the Teresa Carlos collection of restaurants, with the motto “Eat Better, Be Happier, Live Longer”, offers largely plant-based cuisine, cold-pressed juices, and much more. The Flax & Kale location serves their namesake kale salad, and it was super.
It was time to return to Park Guell, that vicious hill I ran up earlier. The park was designed by Gaudi, and in 1906 at the age of 54, he moved into the house in the park with his father and niece. He lived a rather plain lifestyle and was a creature of vicious habit, with even nuns remarking at his strict schedule and austere lifestyle.
“Gaudi was short and had a tangled beard, not overly long. His eyes had the color and transparency of the morning sky. The sweetest smile was ever on his lips, but before presumptuous fools it became mocking, wounded like a dart. He often expressed himself vehemently, flaring up. That was the fir he carried within.” -Joachim Civera I Sormani
The Gaudi house museum is a short but sweet exhibition of his lifestyle and accommodations until 1925, when he moved into the Sagrada Familia workshop. Sadly he died shortly thereafter, three days after being hit by a tram.
The furniture of the house was designed by Gaudi and echoes the natural construction of the famous cathedral.
Time for dinner and a Menu del Dia. At lunch hour, the Menu del Dia usually consists of a three course meal including bread, wine, coffee and taxes, for around 10 euro. It’s a great budget way to have a filling meal, and similar menus are offered in some local joints at dinner, for higher prices.
Across the Gracia and Eixample neighbourhoods are numerous local joints to get your fix. The food is heavy – baked gorgonzola gnocchi as starters and fatty roast pork for mains. Dessert will inevitably be a local specialty – Crèma Catalana or Pudin de Pan. A good way to ensure a good sleep.
The glorious Olympic park, a short metro ride from Gracia, is not only full of beautiful nature but plays host to several museums as well.
The National Catalunyan Museum wins for the museum with the best views 🙂 Inside, a huge collection of Renaissance, Modern, and historical Spanish art speaks to the incredible art history of the country. In the evening, the steps in front of the museum fill with people watching the illuminated water fountain show below.
The Joan Miro foundation is the place to be for any Miro fan. The works inside are from Miro’s own personal collection, and the idea of the foundation is to have a center for contemporary art research and exhibition of modern art in partnership with other organizations.
For a decent afternoon pick-me-up, head to Onna coffee. These guys are passionate about their beans, and make a delicious brew.
For a more outdoorsy side of Barcelona, and a few other attractions, there is another blog post coming soon!